Poetry, A Vital Part of Life
By Annis Cassells
“Today is ‘Poem in Your Pocket’ Day,” I announced to the woman I’d just met at my assigned table at the Women’s Business Conference. “May I read you a poem?” I asked, whipping a piece of paper from my pocket.
And I began reading aloud Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing of the Boats.”
When finished, I handed her the poem to keep. She smiled. Not a big I’m-glad-to-see-you smile, but a warm, contented smile and said, “Thank you. That was just what I needed to hear today.”
Folks sometimes admit they just don’t “get it” after reading a poem, or they say they don’t like poetry. A huge reason is how poetry was taught in schools. Many who delighted in rhythm and rhyme from Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss got turned off in high school literature classes.
As an adult, I learned reading poetry produces several benefits beyond enjoyment. One is improving vocabulary since poetry often introduces unusual words, phrases, or allusions. Another benefit is long-term brain health can be improved by reading poetry. Studies have shown that people who memorize and recite poems are less susceptible to Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ll bet many of you still recall poems you learned in grade school or high school.
Poetry improves critical thinking. Since its meaning is not obvious or one-dimensional, poetry requires readers to actively analyze and decipher language and meaning instead of engaging in passive reading. And, triggering emotions and memories, poetry helps develop empathy as it unites people across time and cultures.
Set aside the time to read a new poem several times. Read it aloud so your ear can hear the language. Then read it again. Sometimes I do several readings, trying out different stresses and phrasing.
Why would anyone WANT to read (and re-read) poetry? To interact with the poet’s ideas, to learn something, feel something, and see how the poet’s experience relates to yours. Reading several times helps find meaning. There is no ONE meaning of a poem. Each of us brings our experience and life to a poem and may glean different meanings. That’s what turned us off in high school, searching for “the meaning,” usually what the teacher said it was.
April is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world. Discover and participate in the many Kern County events to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Seek out some poetry, favorite poets, or new-to-you poets. Try writing some of your own poetry or pull out those poems you wrote long ago. “Poem in Your Pocket” Day is a large part of NPM. This year, it’s April 27. Choose or write a poem to share with others that day.
Add poetry to your life for the benefits and pleasure it can bring.
The following is the poem, by Lucille Clifton, that Cassells referenced in her essay
Blessing of the Boats
by Lucille Clifton